NEW ORLEANS -- The 50 boats exited stage left from the launch site at Bayou Segnette State Park as they did a final dress rehearsal for the 2011 Bassmaster Classic.
After the playing of the national anthem to a sparse crowd of several relatives and fans, B.A.S.S. emcee Dave Mercer named off the anglers as the line headed out toward the Louisiana Delta that has changed tremendously since the 2003 Classic.
Mike Iaconelli won that event on his now famous "Never give up" last-minute catch. The new father is happy to be back defending his title.
"Obviously, I'd love to do it," he said of repeating here. "It's nice to be back in a place that changed my life and career."
Things had been hectic for Iaconelli in the weeks leading up to the Classic. His wife, Becky was pregnant, and he jumbled his schedule to try to be there for the delivery. He planned to fly home Sunday night after three-day practice period and, with a pass from tournament director Trip Weldon, miss Classic activities. He was going to fly back to New Orleans on Thursday to be here for Friday's first day of the tournament.
When Becky delivered Vegas last Wednesday, he re-jumbled everything and, though missing being with home for both of them, was able to make Tuesday's registration and angler meeting and, more importantly, Wednesday's practice.
"Everything after that is gravy," he said.
Despite wanting to be with his family, he has his eyes on repeating on the Delta, and thinks a new area he found in Venice might be another winner.
"I really believe I've located the group of winning fish," he said.
Iaconelli doesn't plan to visit them today, instead using the day for a final rehearsal, making sure of his run, shortcuts, fuel stops, basically his game plan and time management are spot on.
"Today is a day for me I'm not even going to make a cast," he said. "If I make a cast today, I'll be surprised.
"I found an area in the practice ... I don't want to even get near it. I think there's a group of fish that live there and I've just got to figure them out."
Cold conditions the past week hampered practice, but warming temperatures are expected to heat up the fish. Some found water as cold as 37 degrees on the first day of practice but it has risen significantly and is approaching 60 degrees.
Upon hearing the water temp at the park, Iaconelli let out a long, positive "Ooooooh."
Other anglers were chomping at the bit as they waited to launch. Defending Classic champ Kevin VanDam said his day would be spent "checking some secondary areas" ... that could become "primary areas."
Most of the competitors said they would use the day to either figure out or fine-tune their strategy, which most think will be the key to victory.
Randall Tharp, the Southern Opens champion and a first-time Classic qualifier, said the Louisiana Delta is an intimidating fishery, and determining the correct approach will be key.
"I heard Gary Klein say half the field will be out of it after the first day by going the wrong way, and I agree," he said. "There's more variables here than any other event many of the anglers have been to."
Fog was an issue at Wednesday's launch. Weldon announced on the loudspeaker there was a dense fog advisory and advised the anglers to be careful. While many will make their trial run and check on their spots, others are looking for new areas. A number said they planned to stay close.
"I'm sure Cataouatche will be full of boats," KVD said.